At an event hosted by UF’s CAMERA Fellow, Naor Amir, and co-sponsored with a local synagogue BBQ, about 30 Gators came out to grab some food and listen to Zion Uness’ story of Aliyah (immigration) to Israel from Ethiopia as a young boy. Zion opened up his discussion by detailing his personal account of crossing Sudan by foot in order to make it to Israel as part of the IDF’s Operation Moses which aimed to bring the Jewish-Ethiopian community to the Jewish State. He spoke of the hardships faced by the Ethiopian community as they left behind their local villages to wait in harsh conditions in Sudanese refugee camps.
Upon making it to Israel, Zion served as an infantry soldier in the IDF. Zion shared with students his personal experiences in the high ethical standards the IDF demands of its soldiers. Uness went on to receive a degree in occupational therapy from the University of Haifa. While Zion stressed the need for Ethiopian-Israelis to continue their integration into the academic and social realms of Israel, he frequently reminded students of their important role in supporting Israel abroad. Zion was very open with students in admitting that while not everything was perfect in Israel, it was definitely a worthy cause deserving the support of all individuals. He used his personal experiences as proof of the good intentions of Israel and a great example of why students should continue to support the tiny nation.
Furthermore, he shared with students his belief that the story of the Ethiopian community can be a story of unity between the Western world and the African nations. He believes that given access to higher education institutions and modern technologies, the standard of living for thousands of Africans can be improved. Zion stressed that Israel can and has been a leader in this movement; bringing prosperity to other nations through its own experiences and expertise.
Zion had a powerful impact on the students. His inspirational personal story on how Israel helped him follow his dreams provided a fresh outlook on why Israel must be supported on campus. One student who attended the event, Shai Zarif, thanked Zion for “illuminating an aspect of Israel that is not heard very often”, and providing “another reason for me to support Israel on campus.”